We woke up after a restful nights sleep. The sites are proving to be very quiet. They all have a strict quiet time usually from about 10pm to 7am. Packed up and headed for Waitomo. It was only a short drive, about 15kms.
We went to the isite office. They are the NZ visitor information. Very helpful and you can book camp sites , tours etc there. We spoke with the lady and decided we would do a double tour at Waitomo. The first was a 2 hour tour of the Ruakuri Caves followed by the Waitomo gloworm caves.
We had a short wait outside the isite office after which Rachel arrived in a mini bus to drive us to the first caves. There were only 9 of us on the tour. Again at this time of year everything is quiet.
There is a bit of a long saga to the caves. Basically they were on a guys land and he used to let friends have a look around. No one seemed bothered at that point . Then he started charging for it. Suddenly the NZ Govt claimed they owned them followed quickly by the local Maoris who said it was theirs and an ancient burial site and holy etc etc etc.
So in true antipodean style Old man Holden who owned the land up top said f*** you all and closed it off. They stood unused for over 20 years. Then a company with money came along and brokered a deal. They paid 2 million dollars to open up and develop the site. The Maoris got back their burial site,and them,Holden and the Govt all get a cut for each person who visits.
Im glad they did because the caves are amazing. You enter down a 300ft descent spiral ramp. The tour then takes you along walkways into the caverns underground. In all there are about 300kms of caves in the area. Only 50 people live in Waitomo but they have two pot holing clubs!!!!
The caves are enormous inside with huge stalagtites and stalagmites in them. Also they have ribbon stalagtites, which I had never seen before. The tour was interesting with lots of geological info and viewing fossils in the rocks. Part way round we came across some gloworms. There are two species of gloworm. One lives in the forest and the other in the caves. The 'worm' is actually the pupae stage for a cave gnat. It is about the size of a match stick and has threads hanging from it. These glow and attract other bugs which get caught on them and are eaten.
There were a huge number of them but they were impressive none the less. However Jill and I had paid for a separate gloworm cave tour as well. So we were both thinking had we wasted our money as they had them in here?
After a couple of hours underground we emerged into the sunlight. It was only a short walk to the next tour. This was only going to last 45 minutes so we didn't know quite what to expect.
Off we set in a group with our Maori guide. The tour took us in to the cave and down. Eventually we came to a massive cavern. It was cathedral like. Cocerts have been held here, including by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the Vienna boys choir. To demonstrate the acoustics the guide turned off all the lighting and sang a Maori song. Cool. Still no gloworms though.
We continued our descent and eventually we saw the glow worms. This was clearly a more suitable cave than the previous one as there were masses of them. Bio luminescence is apparently the technical term.
It was an impressive site, but more was to come. We walked further and into a dark grotto like cavern. It had a lake and a high roof. In almost darkness we climbed into a boat and the guide started to pull us out on to the lake using overhead wires. He had asked us to be quiet during this part as noise and light upset the gloworms.
I said the caverns were cathedral like. Well when you looked up in the darkness it was like sunlight through a stain glass window. The roof of the cavern was a mass of gloworms shining in the darkness. It was a spectacular light show. The boat ride lasted about 10 minutes and we moved silently across the water in total blackness apart from the gloworm light above our head.
Eventually we emerged into daylight again. Ive said before that each thing on this trip is so different to anything we have seen before. This was no exception. The natural world showing again that it is more than a match for man made pleasures.
It was now afternoon and we went back to the isite and booked two nights on a site in Rotorua. The drive was like being in the Lake District. High rugged mountains, with green fields all around. It was a lovely drive.
In Rotorua we are going to visit the Geo thermal geysers and springs and attend a Maori evening. In fact by the time you read this we will have done both. I'll tell you all about it next time.